The flavor station: a pilot salad bar trial to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in elementary school children
Most American children consume less than the recommend amount of fruits and vegetables (F&V), 74% and 84%, respectively. Eating too few F&V in childhood is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, respiratory symptoms, and some cancers later in life. Adequate F&V consumption favorably impacts antioxidant status, gut flora, mood, and cognitive functioning. Nutrients such as vitamin C and fiber are only naturally occurring in plant foods. For many children, school lunches are an important source of F&V. This pilot study assessed the feasibility of providing condiments to increase children’s consumption of salad bar F&V in an elementary school cafeteria at lunchtime. The trial site was a single Title 1 elementary school in a large, urban district in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. Taste tests were conducted on three convenience samples of children in grades 3 – 7, aged 8 – 12 years (n=57) to identify the most popular condiment flavors. The five highest rated flavors were made available daily at a “flavor station” in the school’s lunchroom for three consecutive weeks during the Fall 2018 semester. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to analyze data. A cost analysis was conducted for capital outlays related to the flavor station. School employee perceptions of F&V and the flavor station were assessed via posttest online surveys. Peanut butter was rated the best tasting condiment by children and was the only condiment that increased in popularity throughout the intervention. Overall, daily F&V consumption increased 17 g per child. There was a linear increase in F&V consumption during the study (r=0.986; P=0.014). As a proportion of the total F&V selected, F&V waste decreased by nearly 3%. The average daily cost of providing the flavor station was $0.09 per student. Sixty-five percent of school staff felt that the flavor station should continue at their school. Peanut butter is an affordable, nutrient-dense food that accommodates the USDA Food and Nutrition Service meal patterns and nutrition standards, and thus, is a viable strategy for increasing F&V consumption and decreasing F&V waste. The results herein inform the development of future interventions to improve the palatability of F&V for children.